Column: Take a stand


Parker Nolan

TRL’s Benjamin Nopper supports the right to free speech, but believes demonstrations during the anthem disrespects American values.

Benjamin Nopper, Staff Writer

Bombs whistled through the air in the night sky as the British army invaded the American base of Fort McHenry on the 13th of September in 1814. Amid the chaos and destruction in the battlefield of what is present-day Baltimore, a man named Francis Scott Key gazed upon the scene from his detainment on an enemy ship.

For nearly an entire day, he witnessed the British soldiers’ efforts to conquer Fort McHenry fail until they finally withdrew. At the rise of dawn, he spotted a red, white, and blue piece of cloth waving through the air. An inspired Key would go on to write the poem, “The Defense of Fort McHenry,” with the unforgettable lyrics: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”

It is triumphant.

It is beautiful.

It sends a chill down the spine of every proud American. The poem would subsequently become the “Star-Spangled Banner,” our current national anthem.

In 1814, the flag that “yet waved,” even during the atrocities of battle, was seen as a symbol of patriotism and freedom. Fast forward to over 200 years later, and the narrative has drastically changed. In 2017, the same flag that has been protected by so many brave men and women, the same flag that was emphatically planted into the moon, the same flag that was carried onto the beaches of Normandy, and the same flag that was heroically raised into the air by first responders after the most tragic events in American history has been stripped of its once sacred meaning. For some Americans today, the flag evokes a feeling of inequality rather than the unity that it once represented.

Today, it has become commonplace for professional athletes to use their platforms in such a way that distorts the meaning of our flag. This sense of distortion has become particularly evident in our country’s most popular sport, the National Football League, where players have resorted to actions such as kneeling, locking arms, and even raising fists during the playing of our country’s most treasured anthem in attempts to make political statements. This behavior should be disappointing to anyone who is fortunate enough to say that he or she calls the United States of America his or her home.

The flag is not a reflection of the President or dark times in our country; the flag is a reflection of the idealistic morals that have established our nation and made it so special for so long. If you are disrespecting the flag, you are not making a political statement. You are disrespecting the values of this country, whether you intend to or not.

An important thing to consider about these anthem protests is that nowhere in the Constitution or its Amendments does it state that its citizens must stand upright during the playing of the anthem. In fact, according to the First Amendment, these athletes have every right to peacefully protest and exercise their freedom of expression. Whether or not you agree with what these players are doing, there is no justification to support the idea that what they are doing is unlawful because they are simply exercising their guaranteed rights that are granted by the Constitution.

On the other hand, just as these athletes have the freedom to express themselves through these protests, you and I have the right to express our opinions about the morals behind their actions.

When analyzing what these athletes are doing, it is essential to understand what their intentions truly are. When Colin Kaepernick began the trend of “taking a knee” over a year ago, his intention was to raise awareness to social injustice.

But once again, the narrative changed. As the anthem protests continued over the course of the 2017 season, President Trump issued a statement that disapproved of the players’ protests. The President’s comments began an uproar throughout the entire league, leading to even more protests the ensuing week.

In this situation, neither side is right. The players are not justified to disrespect the flag and national anthem to protest the government or president because, like I said, that is not what the flag represents. Meanwhile, President Trump is not justified to say that players should be “fired” for these protests, especially considering that the Constitution itself declares that the federal government or its government officials cannot interfere with a private corporation.

It’s OK if you are not 100 percent in favor of what either side is arguing. I know for a fact that I certainly disagree with the players’ protests, but I also concede that President Trump should have handled the situation in a more presidential manner than suggesting that the players should be fired.

Once upon a time, the NFL was a way for people to escape from the politics and issues of the world. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The players are looking to make a stand (figuratively) against social injustice, when in reality, they are fueling the fire and causing a great political divide. The players decided to use their platforms on the field to raise awareness to an issue that should be completely unrelated to the gridiron. As a result, we find ourselves as a nation divided.

But that doesn’t mean there can’t be a solution. Perhaps everyone should embrace the flag. Perhaps everyone should view the flag as an ideal of how our country should be, similarly to how it was used in civil rights movements back in the 1960s.

America is a place where “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

America isn’t a perfect place, but it’s pretty close. We are all free. We are all equal.

That is something to be thankful for, and that is why every individual should stand up and embrace our flag with pride and patriotism.